Car Makers Consider Other Marketing Vehicles

Most automotive advertisers are taking the road most traveled this year, with few car marketers predicting abrupt changes in approach or media mix. In fact, the majority of the strategies executives discussed at the 17th annual 2005 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Arena in Detroit last week were variations on themes—especially the migration from network TV to cable, the Internet and nontraditional advertising.

Automakers from GM to BMW said they will do more experience-based marketing in 2005, pitting competitive vehicles against each other. That means more ride-and-drive and lifestyle events as well as video-style Web campaigns.

For 2005, just a partial list of such efforts includes an expansion of Jeep’s “King of the Mountain” and driving events, including a Chicago version of Camp Jeep New York; a May ride-and-drive event for Hyundai’s new Sonata; and Ford’s “Truth About Trucks” interactive Web site, which debuted last week.

A marketplace crowded with hundreds of choices is a major motivator for more hands-on media and marketing tactics. Julie Roehm, Chrysler Group vp of marketing communications, said at the show, “This year, we are taking a hard line in terms of our business metrics to each of our nameplates. We will do a lot more Internet efforts and events that get more people to experience the vehicles. It means not spending 80 percent of our money in television and print anymore.”

Mark Hans Richer, marketing director of Pontiac—which is following its attention-getting car giveaway on Oprah with a $1 million-plus deal to award cars on Live With Regis and Kelly starting today—added, “Defining what is a successful launch is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”

Of course, no car maker is abandoning national broadcast advertising entirely. Automotive clients spend about $9 billion a year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, roughly two thirds of that on cable or network TV. Universal McCann pundit Bob Coen estimated that the category will increase TV spending by 10 percent or more in 2005.

Naturally, some show attendees did unveil ad strategy changes, especially in terms of their creative.

For the spring launch of its new Sonata, Hyundai will abandon its recent creative focus on people making the right choice to buy a car in favor of an approach created by independent The Richards Group in Dallas and described by executive director of marketing Paul Sellers as “much more about the brand and the car.”

Struggling Mitsubishi, which went much more hard-sell in 2004 and is currently reviewing its account, plans a return to its “fun” image advertising crafted by Interpublic’s Deutsch/ L.A., Marina del Rey, Calif., said new director of advertising Kevin Mayer. “We can’t run from who we are,” he said. “There is a hipness factor to Mitsubishi and the question is how do we communicate it, and to what degree.”